A brief walk through any public space will reveal the presence of a new type of technology. It’s not a new phone or tablet, it’s a cigarette; an e-cigarette. I came across this article in an email that explains why life insurers apply a loading for the use of e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are becoming increasingly popular, but they’re no stranger to controversy. The latest news on the topic highlights the increasing number of governmental regulations kicking in across the world to restrict or limit the distribution and use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).

The Cancer Society of South Africa (CANSA) is one of many organisations voicing its dismay with the popularity of e-cigarettes, emphasising that the use and distribution of e-cigarettes is regulated under the Medicines and Related Substance Act, which classifies nicotine as a schedule 3 drug and requires it to be sold only at pharmacies and with a doctor’s script.

The device itself also falls under the Act, as it is considered a delivery device for a scheduled drug.

In spite of this, the Act does not seem to be enforced, with many shopping mall kiosks selling e-cigarettes across South Africa.

E-cigarettes are believed to be less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, but the long-term effects of the use of e-cigarettes (commonly referred to as ‘vaping’) remain uncertain. Many health organisations argue that these devices have the potential to create a whole new generation of nicotine addicts.

A recent report by reinsurer Gen Re placed the life insurance industry’s stance on these products in the spotlight, emphasising that all users of nicotine must be treated as smokers, regardless of the nicotine source.

Last month, the World Health Organisation added its voice to the fight against the use and distribution of e-cigarettes, calling for tougher restrictions on these devices. These should include restrictions against advertising of e-cigarettes, their indoor use and the use of flavours such as fruit and candy.

Over 59 countries are already said to regulate the use of e-cigarettes, with 39 countries enforcing advertising and sponsorship bans, and 30 countries prohibiting vaping in public spaces.

According to the WHO, e-cigarettes represent a $3 billion industry. The reason vaping is perceived as less harmful than smoking speaks for itself: Tobacco cigarettes release nicotine in smoke containing 7 000 harmful chemicals (of which 70 of these chemicals cause cancer). E-cigarettes, on the other hand, deliver only one potentially harmful chemical, known as propylene-glycol (PG).

Gen Re reports that PG is approved for use in food, tobacco, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products such as asthma inhalers. Even hospital air is disinfected using it, which means many of us could have been exposed to this chemical without knowing it.

But why take issue with a substance like PG if it’s in such common use? Because the long-term risks of inhaling it remain unknown, argues Gen Re.

And, it adds, scientific evidence to support the view that vaping aids in quitting smoking is inconclusive. In fact, many smokers don’t stop smoking, but instead become dual-users of tobacco and e-cigarettes.

“Much effort has been made to de-normalise smoking in recent years, yet the design and advertising of many mainstream e-cigarettes mimic their tobacco counterparts,” Gen Re claims.

“Many fear their popularity could re-glamorise smoking, enticing new smokers or discouraging others from stopping. ‘Celebrity vapers’ and new ‘fun flavoured’ e-cigarettes are drawing particular criticism from health campaigners due to their influence on teenagers.”

They argue more and larger long-term trials are urgently needed to establish whether vaping can be an effective aid to smoking cessation. In the meantime, all users of nicotine should be treated as smokers regardless of the source. In line with international insurance industry practice, underwriters apply smoker rates to users of e-cigarettes.

The reason for this — as summarised by Gen Re — is threefold:

1. Cotinine screening (the routine test for applicants who claim to be non-smokers) cannot identify the method of nicotine intake;
2. Individuals who remain addicted to nicotine are in danger of using tobacco;
3. It is highly likely that users of e-cigarettes will revert to smoking or become dual users.

Lighting up or switching on will have the same impact on your risk profile – and could have unknown future complications with your health. Either way – e-ciggies will cost you more.

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